Plans to build the second phase of a combined academic and cultural facility in the heart of Southend could be wound down as a result of the Covid19 Pandemic.
The Forum II is a joint project between South Essex College and Southend-on-Sea Borough Council was due to be built in the next year, opening to students and the public in September 2021.
Councillors in Southend-on-Sea Borough Councils cabinet will consider a report on 15 September recommending that the project be brought to a conclusion and that funding secured towards part-funding its delivery be handed back to the South East Local Enterprise Partnership to be redistributed to other projects elsewhere in the region in accordance with the funding agreement.
The report outlines how both the council and the college have concerns regarding the impact of Covid19 and the costs associated with the project. The college also has some uncertainties regarding the requirements for teaching space in light of recent events.
As a result of this, the council and college no longer consider the project viable in its current form and will instead work to find other ways of achieving the intended outcomes of the project. These are:
- supporting the Southend economy, and particularly the cultural and creative sector, through skills development and provision of performance and workspace;
- increasing the opportunities for residents, visitors and businesses to engage with the cultural sector thereby improving quality of life;
- investing in and activating space in the town centre; and
- anchoring Southend in the Thames Estuary Production Corridor.
Angela O’Donoghue, Principal and Chief Executive of South Essex College, said: “The situation we are all in is unprecedented and unfortunately at this stage we are uncertain about the impacts of the pandemic and other financial factors on the college and the council.
“A number of our funding streams have been hit for example apprenticeship starts. Hopefully this will only be a short-term issue but we need to be cautious.
“We have therefore, in agreement with the council, decided not to continue with the project at this stage.”
Cllr Kevin Robinson, cabinet member for business, culture and tourism, said: “Clearly this is going to be a very difficult decision to have to take.
“With so much uncertainty now surrounding the future delivery of higher education in the wake of the Covid19 pandemic – combined with constraints around when grant funding towards the project needs to be spent – we need to ensure we make the right decision for the current climate and circumstances.
“We need to be mindful of the risk of starting construction of such a large building while question marks now hang over the need for the teaching space and therefore the long-term financial viability of the project.
“Officers have looked at whether it might be possible to deliver the project with a different partner, or indeed whether it would be possible to go it alone without the college, but have concluded that to do so would be too great a financial risk for the Council-tax-payer. That would be in nobody’s interest.
“A great deal of hard work has been put into bringing the project to the stage it is currently at, however I will discuss the report and its recommendations with my cabinet colleagues next week and we will make the decision we believe to be best for our town.”
A copy of the report to be considered by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s cabinet on 15 September can be found online.